Seaweed is nowadays often viewed as a vital part of a nutritionally balanced diet and as more information comes to light about its health benefits and how it aids the body in cleansing and detoxing, demand is growing. As it does, we must be aware of the quality of the products we buy and the impact of their production. How seaweed harvest and cultivation impact ecology and environment are important concerns as are the waters the seaweed is harvested from considering the high levels of heavy metals in some areas of our seas and oceans.
On top of this, when looking for vegan friendly seaweeds, all packets state phrasing such as ‘may contain traces of crustaceans’ and whilst this is comparable to finding dead insects in organic greens, it makes it important that consumers source products from companies doing their best to avoid causing harm and death to sea creatures by harvesting by hand and removing potentially dangerous parts of shells by processing well.
Algamar are a company so passionate about seaweed they wrote a book on it and are so committed to environmental health and spreading awareness about seaweed that they organise and host the annual week long Atlantic Algae Conference with scientific presentations, practical classes and a daily menu made with sea vegetables.
Their seaweed is harvested from the Atlantic coast and dried at low temperatures to preserve vital nutrients. Certified vegan and organic, everything we have tried from them has been free from pieces of dried sea life which is pleasing considering the amount of times we have nearly broken teeth on shells and stones found in other organic seaweed products. We tried four of their most popular seaweeds and highly recommend them all.
Their dulse is melt in the mouth soft, sweet and salty and finally gives us that bacon flavour so many people rave about. This is actually so good we have found ourselves snacking on it alone. Their sea spaghetti is softer than some but still retains a good bite after soaking and rinsing and has a pleasant sea flavour and a meatiness to its texture. Their kombu is more delicate than other products on the market and almost melts into soups and hot dishes, flavouring them well. It remains firm but soft enough to eat after overnight soaking but no cooking which is not something we have found with other brands that are too hard to eat without cooking first. Their wakame is beautifully soft with a subtle flavour and smooth texture. Bags of all four are deceptively full of seaweed and their price point is lower than other organic offerings on the market.
We spoke with Algamar about their love of seaweed and harvesting and production processes.
What inspired you to harvest and sell sea vegetables?
Algamar is the first Spanish company to specialise exclusively in harvesting, drying and preparing marine sea vegetables for use as a food. The company was founded in 1996 by the Fernández Sáa brothers, Clemente and Fermín, with the aim of promoting and spreading the word about the marvellous nutritional properties of Galicia’s native marine algae.
Sea vegetables are scientifically recognised as a food with a high nutritional value.
Since 1998, Algamar has cooperated with the Spanish National Research Council (Department of Metabolism and Nutrition) and the University of Santiago de Compostela (Bromatology) and Complutense University of Madrid (Pharmacy) in carrying out various studies of the potential of native edible sea vegetables. The results obtained show that these sea vegetables have high mineral salts and dietary fibre content, an appreciable protein content and a low overall lipid content. They therefore have the characteristics we look for in a healthy food.
A natural resource that renews itself every year in the sea and is therefore a stable and sustainable food.
One of the oldest living beings on the planet, they are also one of the few wild vegetables – a true luxury in these times.
How can wild sea vegetables be classed as organic?
Galicia in northwestern Spain has 35% of the total Spanish coastline. It is a region with an abundance and wide diversity of marine species and has a deeply rooted seafaring tradition. Its location, between the 42nd and 44th parallels, is, strangely enough, on the same latitude as the coasts of Japan.
Galicia owes the exceptional wealth of its seas to its geographical situation, in the shape of a corner that juts into the sea, the great ocean currents that converge here, the jagged, capricious nature of its coastline and its annual capacity for producing life is similar to that of the equatorial jungles, making it one of the richest marine environments in the world.
As far as sea vegetables are concerned, this area has the best resources in southern Europe, with luxuriant underwater gardens and many different shapes and colours.
Algamar first applied to the government and the certification authorities to have sea vegetables recognised as an organic product in 1997, but they had to wait thirteen years for a specific regulation to come into being. The Galician company participated in helping to draw up the regulation by contributing their proposals to the European Union in October 2008. In a first for the organic sector, in 2010 Algamar’s sea vegetables received the European organic certification under the new European Commission Regulation No. 710/2009 that came into force on 1 July 2010.
According to the new European regulations, before the wild sea vegetables can be certified an initial appraisal of the biomass has to be carried out, it must be shown that the harvesting does not have a significant impact on the aquatic environment and measures must be taken to ensure that the sea vegetables are able to regenerate. Minimum sizes and reproductive cycles will also be taken into account. In addition, sea vegetable producers have to show that they are carrying out a sustainable activity in the harvesting areas.
In 2009, the Spanish Ministry of the Environment awarded the Biodiversity 2009 prize to Algamar for its example of innovation and solidity in the management of and respect for natural resources.
The regulations also envisage the cultivation of sea vegetables, an activity common among many Asiatic producers who need to meet a strong internal as well as an international demand. This system was tried out in Galicia some years ago with excellent results in a project coordinated by the universities of Santiago and La Coruña. This will be the next stage in the production, when consumer demand exceeds the availability of renewable sea vegetable resources.
What are the health benefits of consuming sea vegetables?
- It is the largest natural source of essential minerals (calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, etc.) and trace elements (almost all of them, particularly iodine, silicon, zinc, manganese, copper and selenium).
- High biological value proteins: these complement the proteins from other foods as they contain all the essential amino acids and nine of the non essential ones.
- Vitamins, especially those in groups A and C.
- Its abundant fibre is satiating and helps intestinal transit.
- Strengthens bones, hair and nails.
- In addition to nourishing us, they stimulate our metabolism and circulation, help with weight control and activate our natural defences.
How do you process the seaweed?
Following their selection and harvesting from the sea, the fresh algae are checked, subjected to a second selection process and then desiccated in drying chambers, at a low temperature, for human consumption as a dehydrated vegetable. In this way the air and the algae’s own sea salt provide long-lasting, natural preservation. Low temperature (<42 °C) drying preserves the maximum nutritional value.
Does harvesting sea vegetables upset the ecosystem of the area?
Most of the company’s algae are harvested on the southern coast of Galicia, in the area classified by the European Union as part of the Natura 2000 network, very close to the Atlantic Islands Natural Reserve.
The seaweed or sea vegetables harvested by Algamar in Galicia are wild vegetables.
As the official publications of the Fisheries Authority state, seaweed is an abundant, native and natural resource that moreover renews itself every year in the sea and is therefore a stable and sustainable foodstuff. Sea vegetable harvesting is regulated and supervised by the Xunta de Galicia (the Regional Autonomous Government) by which Algamar has been licensed on a yearly basis since it was established.
How do you approach sustainability?
As harvesters of wild edible algae, the company has a “Waters Exploitation Plan”, approved annually by the public Fishing Authority and published in the Official Bulletin of Galicia (DOGA). This plan guarantees that the resources taken from the sea are renewable and maintain the balance of the ecosystem.
The algae are collected by hand on the rocks and usually in the water, selecting and cutting the adult plants at their optimum point of development, just before they wither.
Algamar publications, all our books, posters, catalogues and leaflets, are printed on certified FSC ecological paper made with trees from responsibly managed forests.
Our company is located in a rural community, Pazos de Borbén, considered by the European Union to be “an area at risk of depopulation”. The work provided by Algamar helps the local population stay in their place of origin, thus keeping alive their social and cultural wealth.